After a six-year absence from the Premier League, Wolverhampton Wanderers are returning to the top flight and look set to not only survive but be competitive under Nuno Espirito Santo.
Wolves stormed to Championship victory last season and gained promotion to the Premier League after amassing a total of 99 points in an extremely difficult division. Their successful season was perhaps surprising after a 15th place finish the previous campaign. After the subsequent departure of Paul Lambert, Nuno Espirito Santo took the reins at Wolverhampton and they have not looked back since in the East Midlands. The Portuguese has a win rate of over 65% at Wolves, but to continue this trend will be an uphill struggle this season.
Manager and preferred tactics
It is perhaps no surprise with the heavy presence of Portuguese players for Wolves to discover that their manager, Nuno Espirito Santo is also in fact Portuguese. The 44-year-old was a goalkeeper who spent his playing career across Spain and Portugal and has also managed top flight clubs across these respective divisions. Santo was named the coach of Wolves in May 2017 after leaving his post at Porto and lead the East Midlands side to promotion with four games remaining of the 17/18 campaign. As mentioned above, this feat was all the more impressive considering the club finishing 15th in the 16/17 season. Santo simply turned Wolves fortunes around and will be looking to create history for himself as he steps into England’s top flight.
Typically, the Wanderers line up in a 3-4-3 formation and will adopt the popular wing-back approach this season. Rui Patricio has featured heavily in pre-season and will certainly be Santos’ number one choice this season. The central midfield will be important for Santos this season and much of his teams play will come through here. The Portuguese pairing of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho will probably start at Molineux and the two provide the perfect balance of experience and youth. They will be looking to support the attacking line and also provide a goal now and then. The Wolves front three will be a handful for Premier League defences this season with Raul Jiminez likely to be the centre of the three. Supporting him up front will most probably be Helder Costa and Diogo Jota, who together scored 23 goals between them last season and a return above 30 has to be the aim this campaign. The 3-4-3 formation has been distinctive for Wolves, but with the change of playing speed and game styles, a change in formation could be necessary.
The whole squad will undoubtedly be imperative to Wolves survival this season, yet it is two Portuguese players who will be important to any form of success. Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota are two players who I believe will be key this campaign. The latter, only 21-years-old was permanently bought by Wolves this summer from Atletico Madrid. Last season he finished as Wolves top scorer with 17 goals to his name and his attacking prowess will certainly be relied upon in the 18/19 season. He usually occupies the left side of the attacking trio yet is sometimes chosen to play through the middle of the front line. Another 21-year-old, Ruben Neves was signed by Wolves in the last summer window for their then club record fee of around £16m. This summer, he signed a contract which will keep him at the club until 2023. The Portuguese international has appeared five times for his national side and scored one of the goals of the season last year in the Championship. Seeing how Neves can develop in the Premier League will certainly be a real excitement to see.
Danny Batth will captain a Wolves side who are returning to the Premier League after a six year absence. 27-year-old Batth was a Wolverhampton player during their three year Premier League stint between 2009 and 2012, but spent time on loan at Colchester, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday respectively as he failed to make a first team appearance. Since then, the Wolverhampton centre-back, who has been at the West Midlands club since the age of 10, has appeared almost 200 times for the club and lifted the Championship trophy last year. Standing at 6 foot 3 inches tall, the Englishman will be the rock in the back of a Wolverhampton team who will be tested by the likes of Aguero, Kane, Lukaku and Mo Salah. A strong and defiant defence will be necessary to combat these threats.
There has been constant activity in the East Midlands this summer to get Wolves prepared for a competitive season with a mixture of permanent and loan deals confirmed. All in all, the Wanderers have welcomed 12 signings to Molineux and the arrival of a heavy Portuguese presence has been notified. After an influential season last year, one notable Portuguese to join Wolves is that of Diogo Jota. The midfielder, who has now joined permanently from Atletico Madrid for a fee of just above £12m, spent last year on loan at Wolves, scoring 17 goals in 44 appearances. The 21-year-old will receive stiff competition from another new signing this club. Adama Traore, who spent his youth at Barcelona, completed his switch from Middlesbrough to Wolves after the Wanderers met the youngster’s £18m release clause. Last season at ‘Boro, Traore completed 218 dribbles, averaging approximately 20 dribbles per 90 minutes – ludicrous stats for any competitive player.
Amidst the number of Portuguese internationals to join Wolves this summer is goalkeeper Rui Patricio, who has appeared over 70 times for his national side. With over 300 appearances for Sporting Lisbon, the shot-stopper certainly has an abundance of experience for his first season in the Premier League. Another vastly experienced Portuguese player, who has swapped Monaco for Wolves this summer, is Joao Moutinho. The midfielder has appeared 113 times for Portugal and is their third most capped player. Although at the age of 31 he may be nearing the twilight stage of his career, his knowledge and wisdom will definitely come in handy this season.
Wolves’ latest signing, which came on deadline day, was that of Leander Dendoncker from Anderlecht. The 23-year-old has joined on an initial season-long loan with the move to be made permanent next summer. He was a part of Belgium’s World Cup squad and can be utilise in defence or midfield. The remaining loan deals for Wolves came in the form of Raul Jiminez, who joins from Benfica, Roderick Miranda from Olympiakos and Jonny Castro from Atletico Madrid. The latter of the quartet was signed by Atletico this summer from Celta Vigo and promptly loaned out to Wolves for the coming season.
Willy Boly, the impressive centre-back who was brought in for £10m, Leo Bonatini and Ruben Vinagre make up the remaining of the signings this summer for Wolves.
Despite an impressive transfer window and some individuals who are expected to do big things in England’s top flight, the minimum expectation for the Wanderers will surely be survival. Although having previous Premier League experience, which will stand them in good stead this coming season, the hustle and bustle of England’s top flight is a totally different ball game. Only three times in Premier League history have all three promoted teams beaten the drop and this again will be an ambitious ask. Yet it has to be said that Wolves have recruited well and could be a possible underdog team in this year’s Premier League.
After a six year absence from the Premier League, Wolverhampton Wanderers are returning to the biggest league in the world and look set to not only survive, but be competitive under Nuno Espirito Santo.